Irish hotelier: The west is the best
I first met Alan Maloney during a whirlwind 2012 tour of some of the great links of western Ireland – Carne, Enniscrone, County Sligo and Connemara. Maloney is the owner of Mount Falcon Country House Hotel, a 100-acre resort conveniently located near the town of Ballina, a short drive from Enniscrone.
Maloney is the consummate host, the sort of person who welcomes guests to his hotel as if we were hosting old friends at his home. Maloney also is one of the biggest boosters of Ireland’s western seaboard, touting its beauty, culture, fabulous links and affordability to anyone who will listen. His promotional efforts are bolstered by the Wild Atlantic Way, the roughly 1500-mile coastal drive that is under development.
During the recent PGA Merchandise Show, Maloney talked about that initiative, golf on Ireland’s west coast, and an exotic new amenity he is adding at Mount Falcon.
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Tell me about the Wild Atlantic Way and its potential impact.
Maloney: Strategically, from an industry perspective, it’s a clever initiative. It’s been designed to counterbalance the falloff in bed nights on the western seaboard of Ireland. The reason that’s happened is not that people aren’t coming to the west of Ireland, but because the infrastructure has improved to such an extent that there’s been a tendency for people to stay and base themselves in the cities, and they can still get access to our part of Ireland in a daily trip. It used to take four and a half hours to get to the west coast (from Dublin). Now you can do it an hour and 45 minutes on the motorway.
(The Wild Atlantic Way) highlights all of the attributes the western seaboard has. (The west coast is) the most authentic, rustic part of Ireland, and by definition, it’s the most beautiful. It’s quieter, more pristine. (The Wild Atlantic Way) is a branding and marketing exercise, and I would say it’s totally warranted because the western seaboard is undermarketed, and I would even say totally abandoned in that area.
When will all of the uniform signage be in place?
Maloney: It’s going to take 18 months. The initial branding and launch is there, but it’s all about the follow-through. It’s quite complex, and there’s the inevitable political side of this thing when you’re dealing with 20 different counties, with all of the bureaucrats and administrators and civil servants. It’s going to take time to get it, but once it’s done, it’s done. In the meantime, it shouldn’t stop anyone from coming because that’s where the experience is.
What has been the impact of Carne adding the third nine.
Maloney: It’s going to take two or three years to bed (grow) it in. Matching it up with the back nine of the current course is going to transform it. I think it’s going to be fabulous. It’s changes the whole perspective of the golf course because you’ve got more elevation. I think it presents vantage points to appreciate the scenery, the remoteness out there. It is going to present challenges for the golf club because it is going to be a tough hike around there, and they need to get organized for that, and I’ve told them that. People are going to struggle around it. So they need to back up the service with buggies, etc., etc. The feedback I’ve been getting is that people really like it, but it’s not finished yet, far from it. But it’s going to be a fabulous facility out there with 27 holes. To do what they’ve done with just a shoestring of a budget is really remarkable.
What is your projection for 2014 as far as tourist traffic coming to the north and west of Ireland?
Maloney: It’s growing every year – it certainly has with my own property over the past five years. My own experience is that more and more people are coming up there. People who traditionally had done the southern loop (the Ring of Kerry) do all of the golf courses down there. But the value-for-money proposition has brought a lot of people up (to the north and west). Obviously, the peace process in Northern Ireland and prevalence of (Rory) McIlroy, (Graeme) McDowell and Darren Clarke has helped. The northern links has increased the profile of the region as a whole. I’ve seen the traffic grow 18 to 19 percent every year over the past five years, and I see that only accelerating. . . . I’ve seen groups coming back five years in a row. It’s not as if there aren’t other places on the island they could go to. So that’s a really good sign. . . . What I think resonates with people is the authenticity. It’s a real Irish experience, not an Irish-American experience, and I say that with all due respect.
Is golf still a small part of your tourism business?
Maloney: Purely golf-related business represents 22 percent of my total business, but it’s the fastest-growing segment.
You always add something to Mount Falcon’s amenities each year. What’s new for 2014?
Maloney: I’m bringing something there this spring that’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I was born and brought up in the Middle East, and I used to watch the Arabs hunting with falcons. Since I bought Mount Falcon, it’s always been my dream to develop hunting with falcons. I should have it up and running by May. I’m going to offer a unique experience – not just displaying the falcons, but taking people out into the wilderness. This is with gun dogs, pointing the quarry, and then using the falcons to hunt. For me, that’s pure hunting, that’s nature against nature. There’s nothing artificial about that. There’s no guns, there’s no weaponry. . . . So we’re going to have a falconry facility that’s unique, there’s certainly nothing like it in Ireland. . . . To go out and experience it, I remember as a child it had a huge impact on me.